growing or shrinking

March 11, 2014

A sincere thank you to all who replied to my last post. The responses came in floods – hundreds of views, new followers, texts, emails, phone calls and conversations in person. I was really surprised and touched. Thanks for being friends and well wishers (in that you mean me no particular harm).

One friend who does not identify as a Christian asked me if I was saying that my faith was growing or shrinking. I was really surprised by that question, too.

The answer is complex.

The Christian life is one that pursues sanctification. Sanctification is the process of the pursuit of holiness. Holiness is fucking hard, man, and apparently involves a lot of not using the word fuck. Holiness, and I have encountered it, is beautiful. It is virtue embodied, and it is usually very hard-won, but it is more than just that. It is bright and free and kind, and it delights to spend time worshipping God and in service of his people. It gets angry at the right things and forgives everything else. As I strive to live gently in a violent world (inside a violent body with a violent heart in it) I am striving for sanctification.

I am watching my husband be sanctified. He is better today than he was five and ten years ago. Smarter, kinder, gentler, brighter, gooder. He is unrecognisable from fifteen years ago, where all those virtues were little seeds in him, and now they are young trees that jut out his orifices.

So is my faith growing or shrinking? It’s hard to say. I remain as faithless as ever. I remain weak in virtue and bursting at the seams with self interest. I am regularly seduced by bullshit and the delusion that I can control my life.

What does seem to grow though is my view of God. My view is more generous than it used to be. God seems bigger and wider and that cannot be because he has changed. It’s a question of perspective.

Father Ted can explain it better than I can:

I suppose I am a little closer to him than before. It isn’t that my faith is bigger, it’s that I am allowing the object of my faith to take up more of my landscape. I hope that clears things up a little.

the ten series: three films

October 13, 2013

In the same way that a retweet isn’t an endorsement, featuring in this post is not necessarily a recommendation.  Three memorable ones of the hundreds and hundreds:

1. The Exorcist. When I was fifteen this movie was re-released in the cinema in Ireland. I was absolutely desperate to see it. As a kid I was quite afraid of my parents so did not tend to step out of line or do naughty things very often. On this occasion, however, myself and my buddy S broke all the rules by sneaking out of her parents house at night while they were out and we were supposed to be in, to take the 66 bus into Dublin city centre and watch this movie in the Savoy cinema on O’Connell Street. Well. We were rightly shitting ourselves. It was a horrifying ordeal that was only partly enjoyable at the time and not at all enjoyable later on. We screamed and clutched at each other and trembled all the way home. I had flashbacks for years!

2. Dancer in the Dark. I have always loved Bjork and found her a bit mad and mesmerising. When I saw her in this movie I was simultaneously transfixed and all at once filled with dread at the appalling injustice suffered by her character Selma, who is charged with a horrific crime that she was not responsible for and sentenced accordingly. I sat on the floor of the living room of my rented student accommodation at the time and cried for a good twenty minutes after it was over. I think that was the beginning of me choosing my movies more carefully. Not that I wish that I had not seen it, but the misery of it stayed with me for a long time after I stopped crying. It showed me my own sensitivity and I have not been as willing to watch just any old thing since then. I am more discerning because it’s just not practical to go into mourning after watching a movie and find yourself not fully able to do your job or string a coherent sentence together.

3. High Fidelity. Based on the novel by Nick Hornby, but immeasurably improved by being set in the US instead of in the UK, I include this movie because it is a tonic on a sad day, and there are quite a few of those. Everyone should watch it at least once.

the ten series: nine loves

September 15, 2013

1. The Harry Potter books. Oh man. Forget the movies: they’re rubbish. (That didn’t stop me watching them all in the cinema on opening night, having endured weeks of hopeful anticipation in advance.) They are a supreme escape, full of all the thrills you desire as a child: being able to fly, magnificent food, four poster beds, living in a mystical castle, your homework being practicing magic. Adventure, romance, success, failure, pain, loss, heartache, fun, joy, celebration. Surprise twists and turns, grotesque horrors and exquisite delights. It’s magic.

2. Festival. Christmas, Easter, birthday, firsts, lasts, fine beers: I’m up for celebrating all of it. Growing up in a house devoid of traditions and scant celebrations, I’m up for a party and you’re all invited. (Except…you.) Feasting, drinking, dancing, singing, talking, laughing and being silly a must.

3. Silence. Oh how I love silence. I need a pocket of silence in every day or I go a little bit nuts. I didn’t always know that I needed that and spent more than a little time feeling aggravated and vexed because I didn’t make space for it in my life. Quiet, you!

4. Friendship. It is the most important thing that life has to offer us and it is the only context for virtue. It illuminates everything and makes the most wounding experiences livable. It is rare and it is soul-nourishing like no other thing. It is the perfect soundtrack to every experience.

5. Old fashioned desserts. Tapioca, creamy baked rice, semolina, bread and butter pudding…stodge, warmth, vanilla wonderfulness. I associate them with my grandmother, who was rather ungrandmotherly* overall, but was good at tapioca with a lump of HB ice cream in it.

*She once found a rat in her bedroom, grabbed it in a towel and broke its neck, and other stories.

6. The Counting Crows. It has never been cool to like this band, at least not in Ireland. It is probably less cool than ever now. I went to see them for the first time in the summer of, I think, 1999, with a boy I was besotted with, and his friend. No gig before or since has topped that experience and their music will for me be forever tinted with nostalgic memories of sun and wandering my city’s streets at night and feeling young and unfettered and alive.

7. Sunglasses. Every bit as universally cool as cigarettes, but without the ash-breath, yellow fingers and cancer. Slap ’em on any nerd, and they’re transformed into an adonis-like state.

8. Sleep. I don’t get that much of it, so I enjoy it when I do. Enhanced by the warm presence of the husband-unit.

9. The nineties. Like most teenagers of the nineties, I am obsessed. The terrible fashion. The unforgettable dance music. The new dawn of breakfast television. The economic boom and the sense of endless possibility. The Britpop. The Spice Girls. The movies – the legacy of Jurassic Park, Titanic, Terminator 2, Home Alone, Saving Private Ryan, The Matrix, Mrs. Doubtfire, Forrest Gump and The Sixth Sense. The inexplicable feeling that those of us who identify with the era as being able to take credit for that stuff (you’re welcome). The Alanis-Morisette-Tracy-Chapman-Tori-Amos-Bjork-Sarah-McLaughlin-Beth-Orton-fever that gripped all us young women. The hot summers, the music festivals, the piercings and the purple hair. The oversized tshirts, listening to Longwave radio Atlantic 252, My So Called Life, Dawson’s Creek and Party of Five. Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese changing the political landscape for Irish women forever. Good times.

the ten series: ten secrets

September 15, 2013

One of my buddies, Amo, is a budding writer and faithful blogger. She did a ten-day series of personal blog posts recently that I really enjoyed reading. So I thought I’d have a go, copying her categories. I can’t promise quality. I can’t promise excitement. I can’t promise I’ll even finish the ten posts. But what I can promise is that one day, we all will die.

ten secrets

1. I sometimes fantasise about my funeral or the funerals of people close to me. These fantasies are sort of exquisitely painful, like poking at a mouth ulcer with your tongue, or digging out a splinter with a tweezers. It’s usually the eulogies that I think about: what will I say? What will be said about me? Only one way to find out.

2. I almost always have an upset stomach. Stomach problems plague me. The worst time is always the morning. Most of the time I have stomach ache, abdominal pain, cramps, bloating, diarrhoea or constipation. Add a virus, food past its best or a stressful situation and it’s basically gut carnage that confines me to the house. Yes I’ve had it all checked out. No there’s nothing wrong. Yes I’ve done exclusion diets. No they didn’t help.

3. When meeting new people, I am consistently tempted to say very shocking and controversial things, just for fun. I particularly want to do this around Christians. I (almost) always resist, because that’s something assholes do, and despite being a bit of an asshole, I’d rather people found that out slowly over time, after I’ve already suckered them into agreeing to mow my lawn or put a hem on my dress.

4. Although I am not at all maternal and do not coo over little ones, I really look forward to having a houseful of snotty kids some day, whether that’s by birth, adoption, fostering, or a combination of all three. I also hope to have a team of nannies.

5. I get physical-empathy-pain. When I am with someone who has specific pain in a specific part of their body, I begin to feel pain in that place as well. It also happens when watching television or movies. If someone gets, say, stabbed in the thigh, I immediately experience a shooting pain in my thigh. I know it’s psychological, but I don’t know how to stop it.

6. I really enjoy cutting things with a sharp knife. It is one of the key pleasures, for me, of cooking. I really like the sensation of slicing and chopping, both meaty and vegetable textures. I also love cutting things like cheese (hur hur) and, when I find myself in a situation where I have to cook with blunt knives, 99% of the pleasure of cooking is gone, and I feel a bit fed up and angry about having to cook. Seriously lads. Buy yourself just one supremely good knife, sharpen it daily, and it might transform the way you feel about preparing fresh food. 

7. Conversations about blood and hearts make me lose consciousness. I don’t consider myself squeamish but I just can’t help it. When people start talking about pulses, heartbeats and blood I begin to get blurred vision and lose my hearing and have to sit down with my head between my knees. I don’t really mind looking at blood that much, but I can’t talk about it. The same thing begins to happen as soon as I sit in a doctor’s chair to give a blood sample. As the old strap is going around my arm, I begin to pass out. It’s embarrassing and inconvenient and fairly recent – probably the last five years or so. One night it happened when watching Interview with a Vampire  on the telly. I had to sit on the stairs for forty minutes to recover. Sheesh.

8. As a child, boiled potatoes would make me feel ill, sticking in my throat and refusing to be swallowed, so I would hide them around the house in order to pretend that I had eaten them off my plate. A key location for unwanted spuds was the coal bucket in the living room beside the fireplace. My mother mentioned in passing to me a few years ago that she could never understand what the black mush was that she would sometimes find in with the coal. I would also sometimes hide nice things, like a Toffee Crisp, so that I could forget about them, and then find them again some day and be pleasantly surprised. These are the more innocuous parts of the swirling vortex of eating disorder crap that I went through from about the age of six onwards.

9. I am extremely petulant and childish about making new friends. I sort of hate when people are friendly to me and send me lots of invitations because I already have friends and I don’t need any more bloody friends. I am particularly hating how friendly everyone in Aberdeen is being towards me and the fact that my diary is full of social events this week from kind, welcoming people.

10. I have not really found it to be true that a problem shared is a problem halved. I almost always feel worse when I talk about my problems. However, my pleasure is genuinely doubled when I share it. I am enthusiastic about a lot of things: Spaced, cake, the novels of George Orwell, the music of the tUnE-yArDsbut none of it is more fun than when I can find someone else who feels the same way about it. One day I asked my dear friend L what her absolute favourite-of-all-time song was. When she replied that it was The Whole of the Moon by the Waterboys, which by a remarkable coincidence is also my absolute favourite-of-all-time song, I nearly threw a party out of glee that someone else felt the same way about it. 

11. Because I am a rebel, I am including an eleventh secret. Think of it as the secret track on this secrety blog post. I’d really love to kick a pigeon up the arse some time, but I don’t have the courage. I’d settle for a gull, either.

and so it has come to this

September 13, 2013

Well, this is probably the fourth or fifth time I’ve sat down in the last month to try and write an update here on living gently, and failed. And it’s now that I’ve set myself a twenty minute window before I *have* to get to bed that I’ve decided I’ll take a leaf out of the book of mimi smartypants who does a weekly No Delete Thursday and have myself a little No Delete Friday right here right now. Celebrity Big Brother is on in behind me, providing plenty of satisfyingly inane background noise.

So we’ve moved from Ireland to Scotland. This is week six. I can hardly believe how quickly the time has gone. I am, as I expected I would be, quite homesick. Homesickness, I’ve found, has very little to do with how good or bad the destination is, and all to do with what you have left behind.  It is also a bit of a catch-all word for a shit-ton of conflicting emotions. Nobody told me that sometimes, a symptom of homesickness is feeling REALLY ANGRY at mild to moderate inconveniences. And it’s not about the inconveniences themselves: I am unemployed (agaaaaaiiinnnnn) and so have plenty of time on my hands for standing in lines for bureaucratic rubbish. It’s about how each of the little inconveniences (like standing in line in the job centre only to be told you have to ring to get your national insurance number, then ringing the place in which you are currently standing, then waiting on hold on the line to make an appointment for a national insurance number, then waiting a week for your appointment date, then turning up only for your appointment time being ignored, then waiting weeks for the number to arrive in the post) – it’s about how each of those little inconveniences isolate you and highlight your status as stranger, as inconvenience, as someone of whom the locals should be suspicious. And it’s just a small thing, but Aberdonians don’t smile all that much – at least not the one in service industries. I wouldn’t have described myself as chirpy or (God forbid) bubbly, but it turns out I approach most people with a big gormless smile on my face that quickly slides off as my plebeian status becomes apparent. People are generally helpful, but they do not grin in the way that Irish people do. But then sometimes, I can’t even trust my own perception of things, as perhaps as soon as I landed on the bonny shores I immediately slapped a giant pair of rose tinted spectacles onto my big gombeen face? In any case, things appear skewed vastly in favour of home at the moment, in spite of the many clear pluses here, and I am a walking ball of stress and rage and occasional contentedness.

Charlotte, in spite of her farting and alcohol-induced bed-wetting, has won (I know you were itching for the result), and now it’s time for my leaba. I’ll return. G’nite, dear ones.

queer as folk

March 30, 2013

I don’t have a lot of relatives, and I’m neither sentimental nor particularly family-orientated, but there are two ladies in my life who have a special importance to me and have been there since long before my birth. They are my paternal grandmother’s sisters – the last two women living of a family of thirteen siblings. M and R (my godmother) are 90 and 92 years old respectively, and are a pair of old-fashioned city birds, thankfully with all faculties intact, bar some tottery legs and a little deafness.

We went out today to celebrate M’s birthday. She turned 90 on Tuesday and has been trying to avoid any acknowledgement of this fact at all costs. For her, turning 90 represents the end. She’s probably been getting sadder with every passing month.

This was our second attempt at a celebration and it took some coaxing, but we got there in the end with a leisurely lunch in a cosy fish restaurant where I felt embarrassed for them when they served our desserts in old jam jars, something that truly baffled the old dames (and can you blame them? we’re living in a veritable alternative universe where we are regularly forced to inexplicably eat chips out of metal buckets, complete with handle). By a happy coincidence  the restaurant we found ourselves in had previously been a pub that M had frequented as a folk singer, 6 or 7 decades ago. It brought back a flood of memories for her and later, when we got them both home, at four o’clock in the afternoon, she settled into her armchair, and started to sing.

It was all I could do to hold it together.

Happy Easter everyone.

me, too

December 10, 2012

Allow me a moment to boast. Myself and the husband unit did something really good.

We’re lucky enough to have a lot of love and, out of that love (to our idiot astonishment), came a small burst of life: I was pregnant. But sadly the little life didn’t make it. I had a miscarriage before it really had a chance to get comfortable in there. Just at the end of last month.

Surprising in the sadness is the sense of thankfulness for who was, and that we got to be involved at all. Thankful, too, that it was quiet and private and at home, and not in a hospital.

Almost every woman I’ve told has quietly said, “Me, too.” One had lost her baby just the week before me. Unlike me, she had named her daughter; she had things to unwish for and plans to unmake.

My doctor, who I love, to protect me, wrote “viral illness” on my sick cert. I’ve lied about it in work. I’m not exactly clear on why. Why do we not mention miscarriages?

The husband unit went and had another birthday and we ate beef wellington and drank two bottles of sparkling wine: one expensive, one cheap.

And, I got a new job. That company called me back and offered me a more senior role than the one I’d applied for: more responsibility, longer hours, better pay. It’s a little hard to believe…and a little hard to care, to be honest. Nothing like a bit of death to put a bit of perspective on things. Or is that a bit of life?

Anyway, we are ok, but a bit like play-doh at the moment: squishy and easily smashed flat if not approached with tenderness. On the upside, play-doh smells oddly good, is brightly coloured and ruins even the fanciest of carpets. And is non-toxic to children.